Sometimes I Write Non-Brewing Stuff

And this is one of those! Chuck Wendig, an author that some of you have probably heard me talk about now and again, does a weekly flash-fiction contest over at his blog, Terrible Minds. This week’s challenge was to pick a setting from a list he posted and write a short story (< 1000 words) in that setting. Two of the settings were “in a haunted mountain pass” and “on a battlefield during a war between two mythical races.”

Oh, man. Too much fun! While the pass isn’t haunted until the end of the story (when the battle is over), the setting is most definitely a battlefield:

The Massacre at Jhonglai Pass

A cold wind blew from the peak of Kharak-Zhar. It flew from the summit of that great mountain, stirring up whirlwinds of snow and blowing them helter-skelter across the bleak expanses of Jhonglai Pass. Turak Iron-Beard, Warden of the Western Reach of the Dwarven Empire, looked out across the pass at the forces arrayed before them.  His army, a hundred-thousand strong, clad in steel and carrying guns, was facing down a rag-tag assortment of perhaps a third their number armed with stone weapons and leather armor.

They had spent the better part of six months mustering this army. Now they stood at last ready to bring battle against the enemy.  The Empire had spent nearly two years negotiating with the trolls of Jhonglai, trying to convince them to open it to dwarven expansion. They had refused. Dwarven negotiators had been told repeatedly that the pass was the territory of the trolls. They claimed that there was an ancient pact between them and the Empire which said that the mountain passes and summits were forever to be the domain of the trolls, while the dwarves could roam freely beneath the mountains.

There were no records of this pact in dwarven history. Diplomats had been taken to a cave near the top of Kharak-Zhar and shown a group of ancient carvings in Trollish and ancient Dwarven that the trolls purported were the words of the first dwarven emperor, agreeing that the dwarves would not intrude upon their mountain homes and would confine their empire beneath the surface. The dwarven mage-scholars looked at it, cast their divinations, and solemnly reported that it seemed to be authentic.

The Emperor, though, would have none of it. There were no records from the time of the First Emperor which said anything about a pact with the trolls, he declared. The trolls must be lying. The Empire’s destiny was east, through Jhonglai, and into the fertile Khumbar plains beyond.

Tunneling under Jhonglai–as the trolls said they must–would take years, time the Emperor didn’t have. He was old and had nothing to cement his legacy. This, he had decided, was how he would do it. So Turak marshaled the army. As the Warden of the West was the highest-ranked of the five Wardens, command had fallen to him. He didn’t know much of politics, just that he had been ordered to clear the trolls out of the pass and that the might of the Empire was behind him.

So here they were. A single troll, enormous even for that towering race, stepped out from the front lines and walked towards Turak. “Hold fire!” the dwarf bellowed. The troll carried a flag of truce. Turak stepped out to meet him with his top commander. They walked the two hundred yards to the center of the pass to meet the troll. As they approached him, the giant creature’s voice boomed like thunder.

“I see you, Turak Iron-Beard, Warden of the West. Come no further. Take your army and leave this place. This is Trollish land, and has been since the first days of the first dwarven empire. It is our home, and we shall not permit you to pass through it against every promise made to us all those centuries ago. Leave now, and you may return home in peace.”

Turak spat. “We have no records of these promises you speak of. The Dwarven people seek new lands to settle, and our way lies through Jhonglai, and through you if you insist upon it.” The troll shook his head sadly.

“You know not what you speak of, Iron-Beard. While we have no desire to spill the blood of those who were once our friends, we will not suffer your army to be here.” He turned and began walking away from the dwarves.

“Come back, coward! Let us settle this now!” Turak shouted after him, drawing his flintlock. The troll paused and turned halfway back around to face him.

“No,” the troll said. He continued walking away. Turak cocked his gun and took aim at the giant’s back.

“I said COME BACK,” he shouted again. The troll did not stop, but continued to walk.

Turak pulled the trigger. The shot echoed through the pass. The troll staggered, stopped, and turned around again. His eyes flared green as magic sealed the gaping wound the shot had left in his back. “We gave you a chance, dwarf. You didn’t take it. Now you die.” The troll reared back his head and bellowed to the skies.

Thirty thousand answered. The roar from the trolls shook Turak and his lieutenant to their cores. When none of the trolls moved, though, he laughed. “Is that it?” he asked. “You roar at us until we go home?” The troll glared at him.

“No, dwarf. We call the mountain to aid us. She knows us, and now knows you.” His eyes, still glowing, narrowed. “And she knows you do not belong.” A low rumbling, just beyond his hearing, buzzed in Turak’s bones. His lieutenant looked up at Kharak-Zhar in horror.

“AVALANCHE!” he screamed. Turak looked up and saw that the snowpack of the great peak had broken loose and was rushing down towards the dwarven army, away from the trolls. The troll was running back to his people, who were now silently watching. Turak looked back at his men. They had all seen the avalanche, and they reacted as any sane beings would.

They ran.

They all ran, away from the avalanche, back down the pass. They weren’t fast enough. Turak watched in horror as the entire army was swept away by the tide of white death. He and his lieutenant were barely outside of it. Then he heard a heavy THUNK and his lieutenant tumbled forward, dead instantly from a spear sticking out of his back.

“Run home to your emperor, dwarf!” a troll shouted to him. “Tell him what his legacy truly is!” Then the trolls were gone, vanished into the swirling snow.

 ***

And there you go! Hopefully you enjoyed it. I’m thinking I might have to write some more in this particular world, because I have some excellent ideas for the trolls. Too often they’re portrayed as big, dumb, and evil. Who knew they had magic, and could control the weather and the very earth beneath them? I think that’s all for today.

I should really write some new brewing-related stuff, too, but I haven’t been brewing much! So hopefully I’ll have some time soon to do that, and tell you all about it. In the meantime, find a beer you like, crack it open, and enjoy it.

Skål!

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Two-for-Tuesday!

I have two recipes for you beautiful people today, both for wines. To be more specific, I have a wine recipe and a mead recipe. The wine is a strawberry fruit wine, containing precisely zero grapes, while the other mead is made from a very specific variety of honey in an attempt at making a truly subtle and delicious beverage.

First, the strawberry wine. Those of you who know me know also that this is one of my personal favorites. I’ve made it for two years now, and I figured it was about time to put a batch together for this summer. It’ll be ready to drink in about three months, so right in time for labor day weekend!

This all started with a group of my friends and I who went strawberry picking just over the state line in Maryland last weekend. All told, I came home with about fifteen pounds of strawberries. Normally, fifteen pounds would be plenty for a batch of wine-or so I’ve thought. Every batch I’ve made until now has used about fifteen pounds or so of berries, plus a few pounds of sugar (usually about 5). Upon further review of past batches and more research on making good fruit wine, I’ve found that using more berries will likely give a better wine: More intense strawberry flavor, brighter color, and generally more delicious. It will also be somewhat stronger.

Because of that, I’ve decided this batch to use 24 pounds of berries (minus the normal tossing of a few here and there that are too moldy, smooshed, etc.) and feed it sugar slowly, over a period of a few days. I pitched the yeast (two packets of Red Star Montrachet) today and added one extra pound of sugar. On Thursday I will add another pound, and then on Saturday I’ll add one more. After that, I’m not adding any extra sugar. I think the extra berries will take care of that just fine.

After the normal month in the primary fermenter, I’m going to rack to secondary and add the stabilizer chemicals as normal. Another month in secondary should be enough to settle out all the yeast, at which point I’m going to back-sweeten the wine with some lactose (an unfermentable sugar) and bottle it. One month of bottle aging and it should be ready for consumption! I’ll post more about it as the next phases come along.

And now, on to the mead!

I’ve been meaning to make this particular mead since last summer. I went with my girlfriend to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire up in Manheim, PA last August and happened upon a store there that sells all sorts of specialty and varietal honeys. Killer bee honey, pepper honey, radish honey-you name it, they’ve got it, including meadowfoam honey.

Meadowfoam, for those who don’t know, is a plant. It’s a member of the mallow-type family, as in marsh mallow, the plant for which our modern confection is named. Strangely enough, the flower’s nectar is faintly reminiscent of marshmallows. This also means that the honey made from that nectar has a taste of marshmallow to it.

It’s frickin’ glorious.

I gladly shelled out the $80 they wanted for a 12-lb jug (an entire gallon, if you’re curious) and gleefully brought it home with me..where it proceeded to sit on a basement shelf for nearly a year. Now, though, I’ve finally started the mead. It should be ready to drink…about this time next year.

I used Ken Schramm’s method from his book “The Compleat Meadmaker.” I warmed up the honey first to melt it, then added it to about two gallons of hot water. I then heated it up to about 165 degrees Fahrenheit and added a quarter cup of golden raisins. After it had been at 165 for about twenty minutes I turned off the heat and allowed it to cool to about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, then dumped it into a six-gallon carboy with 2 gallons of cold water in it. I then topped up the carboy with cold water to the six-gallon mark and brought the carboy down to the basement. I let it cool overnight, then added two packets of Red Star Montrachet yeast and a couple teaspoons of yeast nutrient.

Now, I’m going to let it bubble for a month or so and check the specific gravity over the course of a few days. If it’s stable I’ll stabilize it and rack to secondary, otherwise I’ll let it keep going until it stabilizes, then continue with the racking process, same as the strawberry wine.

I’ll keep you all updated on how everything’s going and the progress of each batch as the summer rolls on. Feel free to comment with any questions! As always, happy brewing!

Skål!

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Pumpkin Ale! And More!

Five months. That’s how long it’s been since the last time I posted here. Damn, I feel like a terrible person. I promised you all something delicious and never delivered. Today, I make good on that promise, and give you a little tease of some awesome things to come!

Today I’m going to give you my (not-so) secret recipe. The one that everyone goes nuts for. The one that has stories told about it. Legends have sprung forth from the shenanigans this beer has caused, and with good reason. Because every Halloween, for the last three years (2009-2011) I have brewed this beer, and every year the batch has been gone completely (as in the keg has kicked) within 6 hours of the party starting.

First, though, a little background information about this recipe. Most importantly, it’s not actually mine. Not originally. While I take full credit for the changes that I’ve made to it since the recipe was given to me, the original recipe that I made in 2009 (and have since modified heavily) came from Joe Gallo, owner of How Do You Brew in Newark, Delaware. Joe is one of the most awesome brewers I know, and willingly shares his recipes with anyone who wants to know. If you’re in northern Delaware, northeastern Maryland, or southeastern Pennsylvania, I highly recommend you check out his shop.

That said, I first picked up a copy of the recipe back in September of 2009, along with the ingredients I needed to make it. I brewed it up, put it in the fermenter, and waited patiently for it to be ready to move into secondary. Three weeks later, as I was getting ready to rack it, the worst had happened.

The beer had gone sour.

Now, I don’t mean it had a slight lacto twang to it that could have been covered up with a bit of heavier spicing. No. I mean a full-on, in-your-face, oh-gods-this-is-almost-lambic SOUR taste. Somehow, the batch had gotten infected. I was still pretty new to brewing at that point, so I did something I would now consider unthinkable.

I dumped the batch down the drain.

Looking back on it, even a few months later, I felt very bad about doing it. Had I let it sit, let the funky bacteria do their work, I might have had an amazingly complex and delicious pumpkin sour beer about six months later, one that would have been hitting its prime for the next Halloween. Instead, I was in full-blown panic mode, wondering how in the world I was going to get another batch brewed and packaged in the less than six weeks I had until Halloween.

Somehow, I did it. I went, bought another round of ingredients, brewed it again, and got it done in time. The second time around I made doubly sure I sanitized EVERYTHING. Since then, I have been absolutely nuts about sanitation. Losing a $90 batch of beer will do that to you. The fact that a dollar’s worth of Star-San would have prevented that entire situation has never been lost on me. I know I’m a broken record on this particular subject, but I firmly believe it can never be stressed enough: KEEP THINGS CLEAN. Treat your equipment well and it shall treat you well.

ANYWAYS…All that being said, I think it’s time to get down to business.

TWO RAVENS BREWING’S “VLAD THE IMPAIRER” IMPERIAL SPICED PUMPKIN ALE

BeerSmith Recipe Printout – http://www.beersmith.com
Recipe: Vlad the Impairer 2011 #1
Brewer: Josh Martin
Asst Brewer:
Style: Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer
TYPE: Partial Mash

Recipe Specifications

————————–

Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Size: 4.08 gal
Estimated OG: 1.105 SG
Estimated Color: 20.0 SRM
Estimated IBU: 25.5 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients:

————

4 lbs Pumpkin Pureé (only pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling!!!!)

lbs Amber Dry Extract (12.5 SRM)
3 lbs Extra Light Dry Extract (3.0 SRM)
3 lbs Light Dry Extract (8.0 SRM)
2 lbs Caramel/Crystal Malt – 60L (60.0 SRM)
8.0 oz Cara-Pils/Dextrine (2.0 SRM)
8.0 oz Honey Malt (25.0 SRM)
2.00 oz Cascade [6.40 %] (60 min)
1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (15 min)
1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [4.50 %] (5 min)
1 lbs Brown Sugar, Light
4.0 oz Maple Syrup
2 Pkgs Danstar Nottingham Ale Yeast

Steep the pumpkin puree for 30 minutes at 160°F in one gallon of water. At the same time, steep the grains for 30 minutes at 160°F in a separate gallon of water. Then, discard pumpkin, add pumpkin water to the grains, and continue to steep for another 15 minutes. Then discard grains and use the mini-wort to start brewing with. Follow the hop addition schedule as shown, also adding Irish moss at 10 minutes left in the boil. Chill to 68°F and pitch yeast.  Ferment in primary for one month, then rack to secondary.

Add the following spices to the secondary: 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tbsp ground allspice, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ground mace. Boil in 4 cups of water with the brown sugar and maple syrup for 5 minutes prior to adding to secondary. Ferment in secondary for two weeks. Rack to bottling bucket and package as you desire. This beer does well either in bottles or in a keg.

I highly recommend starting this one in August if you can, September if pumpkin isn’t available until then. Basically, the longer you can give this to ferment, the better it will come out. Even so, I usually don’t start it until mid-September and it always has come out amazingly well. One last point: DON’T SKIMP ON YEAST. Double-pitch this one. More yeast = faster, cleaner ferment, and with a short time scale to make this on you need every advantage you can get.

And now, the tease! For those of you who follow me on Twitter (and if you don’t, why the hell not? I’m @tworavensbrew), you may have seen that I was brewing my Irish Red Ale this past weekend…AND FILMING IT! That’s right, I made a how-to-brew video. Well, I actually just brewed some beer and talked at the camera while my friend filmed. She’s doing the editing. It’ll be up in about a month or so. I’ll post it here and on YouTube when it’s done. I’m excited. Hopefully this is the first of many brewing videos for me.

Well folks, that’s all for today. It’s been a long time between the last post and this one. Here’s to it not being nearly so long to the next one. In the mean time, happy brewing!

Skål!

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Once again, I’ve fallen behind

Yup, three months, no posts. Yay me! That’s ok, though. I’ve got some good stuff that’s happened in the last few months to talk about, so that will give you, my dear readers (and I know you do exist, don’t worry) something interesting to read about. For now, I’m stuck at the office until the end of the normal workday (5pm EST). After that, there’s my 1-hour drive home. THEN I can post something for you. And do I ever have something. Something delicious. Something spicy. Something INCREDIBLY alcoholic. Something….

Halloween related?

Yup. Halloween related. Only 2 weeks late. 😀 Until later, then!

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What’s Brewing – 8/1/11

Sometimes when you’re brewing everything goes right.  Your grain crush is spot on, you sparge completely clear and exactly on-target for your specific gravity, you don’t have even the slightest hint of a boilover, and your O.G. is right where you want it.

 And then sometimes you step on your hydrometer because it’s in a bag with some other stuff and you didn’t even realize it was there.  For those of you who don’t know, a hydrometer is a tool used in brewing to tell you the specific gravity (density) of your beer or wine.  By measuring the density before and after fermentation you can determine how much sugar the yeast consumed, which tells you about how alcoholic your beverage is.  So it’s a pretty important piece of equipment…which I happened to crush beneath my feet.

 It just goes to show you that you can’t always plan for everything when you’re brewing, or even in everyday life.  I now have to find the time tomorrow to go to the brew store and acquire a new hydrometer so that I can actually measure the gravity of the few batches I have to process this weekend.  The pinot noir, two batches of strawberry wine which also need to be sweetened, and the hard cider all have to be measured and packaged.  I’ll probably keg the cider, the pinot is getting put into secondary, and the two batches of strawberry are already in secondary. 

 The two batches of beer that I have brewing will also have to wait until I get a new hydrometer.  The all-grain Irish Red Ale that I have going will just have to be content sitting and waiting for a keg until I can measure its final gravity.  The Liquid Stupid even more so needs to wait, as I need to add a pound of sugar to it once I put it in secondary.  I need to be able to check the gravity both before and after sugar addition.  That way I can measure the _total_ gravity change over the entire length of the fermentation to get an accurate measurement of the alcohol level.

 I really am not all that concerned, however.  Everything that I have going right now could certainly benefit from a little bit more aging, and since no one is desperately clamoring for some of my brews (okay, that’s a lie, my friends are starting to get antsy) I feel just find giving everything an extra few days.  RDWHAHB.  Happy fermenting, and may the froth be with you.

 Skål!

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Brewing Lessons – Liquid Stupid

Today’s lesson is a variation on a recipe I originally found on the Brewboard about a year and a half ago.  I had originally wanted to brew it in January of 2010, using a simple witbier as the starter for the yeast (yes, an ENTIRE BATCH as a starter).  This didn’t end up happening due to various circumstances, so the recipe sort of languished on the back burner, sitting lonely and unloved in my brewing folder.

Then, about two weeks ago, I had stopped in one of my local brewing stores to poke around and see if I needed anything.  While in there, I noticed that they had all the specialty ingredients needed for the Stupid…except for the base malt and yeast.  It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  I bought what I could, then set it down in front of the passenger seat of my car.  There it languished until this past Sunday, when I finally brought it inside.

Before that, though, I had also gone to the other LHBS (Local HomeBrew Store) to pick up the last few things I needed: base malt, a small amount of hard-to-get specialty malt, and 2 packets of dry yeast.  There was a slight problem, however.  It had been close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit here nearly every day for the preceding few days.

And I hadn’t taken my ingredients out of my car.

This time, fortunately, I did not panic.  I simply brought everything inside and set it out to cool down.  Once it had, I brewed with it.

The beer seemed good, pre-pitching.  Delicious, even.  Which goes to show you that, if you’re careful and follow good practices, even if you goof up your storage you can salvage something out of even the most spoiled of hops (usually a lambic.  My hops weren’t quite that bad yet).  So just keep this in mind!  Apart from yeast, most brewing ingredients are hardier than you might expect, so don’t immediately write them off in the event of poor storage conditions.

And, while I personally would be a little hesitant to brew with bug-infested malt (okay, I wouldn’t use it at all), lest we forget that the occasional sugar-seeking arthropod will sometimes land in the boil kettle on an otherwise perfect outdoor brew day.  Is the beer any worse for the wear? I submit to you that it is not.  All that being said, may the foam be with you, and happy brewing!

Skål!

P.S.: For those who care, here’s the recipe as I made it:

  • 13 lbs Pilsner malt
  • 1 lb Dingeman’s Honey Malt
  • 0.5 lb Carapils
  • 2 oz. Hallertauer Hersbrucker (2.4% Alpha Acids) at 60 minutes
  • 1 oz. bitter orange peel, dried and chopped, at 15 minutes
  • 1 oz. coriander seed at 15 minutes
  • 1 oz. ground and dried ginger root at 15 minutes
  • 1 whirlfloc tablet and 2 tbsp bentonite at 15 minutes
  • 3 lbs orange blossom honey while cooling, at 180 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 2 packets SafBrew T-58 dry yeast

Mash in with 16 quarts of 170-degrees Fahrenheit water for a target rest temperature of 150 degrees.  Batch sparge to collect a total of 6.5 gallons of wort.  Bring to a boil and add the hops and other kettle ingredients according to the schedule above.  Chill to about 90 degrees , adding the honey when the wort is about 180 degrees, making sure to stir it in completely.  Pitch the yeast, seal it up, and let it alone for 2 weeks to a month.  Rack to secondary.  Let it alone for another month.  Rack, repeat.  You should probably rack it at least 4 or 5 times before bottling, then leave it for another few months in the bottles (or keg) for optimal smoothness and added stupid upon consumption (or so I hear.  We’ll see what happens, as I’ve never made this before!).

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Brewing Lessons – My First Kit Wine

So I have a little bit of a confession to make to all of you…

I’m an inconsistent bastard.

I don’t post as regularly as I’d like.  Hell, since I got back from my last business trip I haven’t posted AT ALL.  That needs to change.  I made the mistake a lot of beginning bloggers make: I tried to post everyday and quickly got overwhelmed.  So I’m going to change things up.  Until I say otherwise, posts will happen when they happen, but I will guarantee a minimum of at least 1 post per week.  And it’ll be interesting.  Whether it’s a recipe, science lesson, or news commentary, I promise that I will have SOMETHING for you all at least once a week.  So, that being said…

TODAY’S POST BEGINNETH!!!

As some of you who actually know me may or may not have heard, I have finally ventured into the world of wine kits.  I broke down last week and bought a kit to make 6 gallons (about 30 bottles) of Pinot Noir.  Why that particular wine, you might ask? Simple: It’s tasty, it’s classy, it’s reasonably strong…and both my roommates just got a copy of the new Rockstar game L.A. Noir, which is totally awesome and you should all try it.

Wine kits are inherently easier to make than beer kits.  There’s no boiling, chilling, or filtering involved.  Nope.  All you do is clean your equipment, add the juice, a bit of water, and the contents of a couple of little bags (yeast included).  In my case, it was a bag of bentonite (to help clarify the wine), a steeping bag of oak chips, and the single packet of Lalvin EC-1118 dry yeast (an excellent strain, and what I use in my strawberry wine).

Once it starts bubbling away in your primary bucket you leave it alone for two weeks.  Then, assuming that the specific gravity is in the appropriate range, you add the rest of the packets it comes with: Sodium metabisulfite (to kill the yeast off and halt fermentation), potassium sorbate (to prevent renewed fermentation if you choose to backsweeten), and chitosan (to clarify even further).  This is AFTER you rack into your secondary fermenter, of course.  That done, it sits in secondary for another two weeks, or until clear, whichever comes last.  This will most likely be being clear, since unless it’s VERY cold where you have your fermenter it will probably take a good 3-4 weeks to completely clarify.

Once the wine is crystal clear it’s time to bottle!  This is done in a very similar method to making beer.  You wash and sanitize your bottles in essentially the same way, then transfer your wine into a bottling bucket.  Here, however, a key difference comes up.  Since most wines are bottles still (no carbonation) you need to somehow remove the dissolved CO2 that inevitably is still in your wine from the fermentation process.  You have a few options as far as how to do this:

  • Option 1: Re-rack several times.  Each time you rack your wine, a little more gas is released from the batch.  While this works well, it isn’t foolproof, and some gas can be left in the wine which will make it petillant, or semi-sparkling. A more effective method is
  • Option 2: Heat the batch up.  By raising the batch temperature slowly up to about 85-95 degrees Fahrenheit over the course of a day or two, you will cause the wine to be able to hold less CO2 in solution.  You can then cool your wine back down to bottle it.  This can be combined with option 1 (racking while the wine is hot) for more effectiveness.  However, even this is not as effective as
  • Option 3: Using a degassing wand attached to a power drill.  These attachments can be purchased at your Local Homebrew Store (LHBS) for about ten dollars.  You sanitize it, insert it into the carboy (it comes with a bung which fits the mouth of a standard 5 or 6 gallon glass carboy, and you can switch it for a bung that will fit a Better Bottle), and attach a drill.  Turn it on at low speed and let it rip!  This stirs up the wine and liberates the trapped CO2, much like shaking up a soda.  Be warned, though! It has the same consequences as shaking a soda: It foams.  Make sure you have enough headspace in the carboy to account for the foaming, or just accept that you’re going to lose a little bit of wine.  Also, when doing this, make sure you’ve racked into a new vessel and gotten the wine off the lees (dead yeast), or you’re going to make your wine murky again.

Once you’ve clarified and degassed your wine you can go ahead and bottle it.  Transfer it to a bottling bucket; wash, rinse, and sanitize your bottles; sanitize your corks (drop them in a bucket of no-rinse sanitizing solution); and prep your corker.  Once you have all of that together, start filling!  Bottles can be filled up the same was as with beer: Fill to the top, then remove the bottle filling wand.  This will leave a small amount of headspace, sufficient to hold the cork and leave a tiny amount of air left inside.

When you’re done filling and corking your bottles, you probably want to seal the corks somehow.  This can be done in a few different ways.  You can dip your bottles in wax, use premade sealing caps (basically shrink-wrap), or use beer caps if you’re using bottles that can take one.  After you seal your corks, make yourself some awesome labels, slap ’em on, and put your wine on its side in a rack.  This is crucial.  Once you bottle your wine, you need to keep the corks moist to prevent them from shrinking and allowing air in, which will spoil the bottle.  That’s bad, and can in fact lead to your wine turning into vinegar.

Still with me?  Great!  Now that you’ve read everything and are most likely freaked out and totally turned off from doing a wine kit because you’re absolutely certain you’re going to screw it up, take a step back and pause for a moment.

Relax, Don’t Worry, and Have A Homebrew.

Now that you’ve done that you can go ahead and make a wine kit, secure in the knowledge that-much like beer-as long as you’re careful, clean, and diligent, you WILL make a good wine.  Feel free to comment with any questions or feedback, and happy fermenting!

Skål!

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The Real World Calls…

I will unfortunately not be able to put up the real post for today until later this evening.  I’m currently packing up my car and getting ready to head down to southern Virginia for work.  I will be there until later this week, most likely Thursday evening.  Hopefully the rest of this week’s posts won’t be delayed any more than this one.  Tonight’s post is going to be a few tidbits of brewing news and commentary, so stick around!

Skål!

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Brewing Lessons – Concord Pyment

I have had several requests for a particular recipe to be posted here.  For some reason, a batch that I made last year which I had thought was hopeless has become incredibly popular.  It had started with the idea of making a pyment, a hybrid between a grape wine and a mead.

Since I didn’t want to spend a considerable sum of money on a wine kit at the time, and I had a BJ’s membership, I went out and bought 15 quarts of concord grape juice and 15 pounds of clover honey.  I had previously attempted this recipe on a small scale-just 3 quarts-and thought it was delicious.  So I figured I could use the same recipe, just scaled up.  However, because the first batch had not fermented completely due to the limitations of the yeast strain I had chosen to use (Red Star’s Montrachet), I decided to use it for the initial fermentation, then finish it with a champagne yeast.

This did not work.

The pyment, after nearly 10 months of fermentation, several rackings, and multiple attempts to re-start the fermentation by re-pitching yeast, ended up with a final gravity of 1.062.  After having starting at 1.152, this is a fairly amazing feat.  It’s as sweet as most beer worts at the start of fermentation…and 10% ABV.  Very much so a dessert wine, and one to be served in port glasses.  Or so I thought.  My friends disagreed.  A few weeks ago we had a bonfire party at my house…and 4 bottles of this stuff just disappeared.

At least it won’t be sitting around un-drunk!

For those of you who are interested, here’s the full recipe:

Two Ravens’ Concord Grape Pyment

  • 15 quarts Concord grape juice
  • 15 lbs clover honey
  • 2 packets Red Star Montrachet wine yeast
  • Sodium or potassium metabisulfite
  • Sodium or potassium sorbate
  1. Clean and sanitize a glass 5-gallon carboy.  Pour in ~1/2 the grape juice.
  2. Add the honey to the carboy.  Use the rest of the grape juice to rinse your funnel (you’re almost certain to need to use a funnel to get the honey in without spilling any).
  3. Using a sanitized spoon, stir the batch thoroughly to dissolve the honey in the grape juice.
  4. Using a sanitized wine thief, pull a sample to measure and record the starting gravity.
  5. Add 2 packets of Red Star Montrachet wine yeast.
  6. Seal with a fermentation lock and leave it alone for a month.
  7. Check the specific gravity again.  It should be ~1.055-1.065.
  8. If it is, rack off sediment into a clean and sanitized fermenter and add 1 tsp of sorbate and 1/4 teaspoon of sulfite.
  9. Re-seal in the new carboy with fermentation lock.
  10. Allow to sit another month.  Re-rack.
  11. Repeat step 10 for ~6 months.
  12. Bottle or keg as you desire.

Feel free to comment with any questions you might have, and happy fermenting!

Skål!

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No Post For Friday…Obviously…

There will not be a post for Friday, June 10th.  Clearly.  There WILL, however, be a post for Saturday, June 11th.  Circumstances have conspired to push back my planned first “Science Friday” post by one day…to Saturday.

It will still be posted under Science Friday.  Because I feel like it.

Here’s hoping your weekend is off to as good of a start as mine.

Skål!

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